The Avalanche Blogger Roundtable is finally here, with numerous Avalanche bloggers taking part. The Roundtable has been in the works for about two months. We hope it is just the first of many such events. Special thanks to Mike at Bleu, Blanc et Rouge for coming up with the idea and for inviting Dario and myself to take part (Dario was limited to just one answer due to time drag from some real life commitments).
Mile High Hockey has a link to all 8 questions (thanks Joe!). The question we're hosting at ITCS is:
With poor-performing players like Patrice Brisebois, Ossi Vaananen and Ken Klee no longer with the team, who now will become the fans'whipping boy? Who is the weakest link, so to speak?
Mike from Bleu, Blanc et Rouge: I think a bunch of fans are going to turn on Clark if he struggles, due to the flak he received following his new contract. Not me. My new favorite whipping boy will be none other thanLeopold. He's run out of excuses. If he stays healthy and doesn'tpop in 40-50 points on the blueline, then we need to start bringing in his replacement from the ranks of our prospects. The Avs gave up goodvalue for him in Tanguay and haven't seen a return on the investment yet.
Also, the new uniform design will also be removed from my Christmas card list...Yikes!!
Joe from Mile High Hockey: I think there's absolutely no question who is the potential weakest ink on the Avalanche this year: Marek Svatos. With his huge drop-off in scoring last season compared to his rookie year of 2005-06, e's definitely reached a put-up-or-shut-up point in his young areer. Was he a one-hit wonder? Is he for real? He's got to eriously step up and make the most of whatever opportunities he's given by Coach Q. He probably won't enjoy much time on the top two lines considering the depth of the Avalanche offense this year, so e's really got to step it up individually and make an impact. There re lots of young scorers in the Avs' system just waiting to take his spot. If Marek Svatos fails to deliver again this year, he's going to ear a lot of boos from Avalanche fans.
Jibblescribbits: There is no really hate-able player on the Avs this season, so this is the toughest question in the round table for me. The obvious answer is Theo, and yes he will be the whipping boy. But if Budaj steps up, well he won't have to hear the boos. I am tempted to say Marek Svatos here, but I think if he struggles he'll be in Q's doghouse so quickly he'll never get back on the ice. So I am going to pick an odd choice. I think Karlis Skrastins will be the object of the Avs fans scorn. He got on the bad side by getting hurt last year, which some fans seem to think sparked the Avs terror run at the end of last season. He doesn't seem to be a good fit as a partner for any of the current Avs (Hannan, Leo, Liles, Clark, Sauer) he's too good to be a 6th D-man and fans want to see young guns Cumisky and Finger. I think he's going to be the odd man out, and eventually the fans will want him off the ice,yet he's good enough that Q will keep him out there. I think a bad game or two from him could have the fans on his back.
Baba Oje from Melt Your Face-Off: I'm picking Svatos. He showed great promise in his rookie season before getting injured and then hit the sophomore slump last year while other second years players like Crosby and Ovechkin built on what they started. If Svatos plays like he did last year, expect people to get on his back.
Draft Dodger from InTheCheapSeats.com: I think the fans will mostly single out Brett Clark, and, frankly, that's unfair. Clark was our best defenseman last season, but you wouldn't know that reading the reaction to the $3.5 million extension he was given recently. I think what hurts Clark is that he doesn't really excel in any one area. He's just sort of an all-around solid player that can - and will - be used in any situation. It's interesting to me that many followers of the team are counting on big things from two other d-men - Jordan Leopold and Scott Hannan. Both of those guys are similar to Clark, in that they they are more generalists than specialists. In the eyes of many fans, those guys are going to improve the team this year, while Clark is just an overpaid afterthought. And, that's a shame.
Tapeleg from Jerseys and Hockey Love: I have never been a huge Clark fan. Maybe it was because every time I glanced at a game in 2005-06, Clark was on the wrong end of a bad play, and was giving up scoring chances. That may have all been due to timing, but it's a hard image to shake. His play was better last season, but still didn't set me on fire. Still, I'm going to leave him off this list.
At this point, Marek Svatos is going to get kicked around the most if he doesn't perform. The team has given him ample oppertunity, and if he doesn't step up and seize it, he is going to be traded for a player and picks by the deadline. He shows a lot of talent, but he missed the boat way too much last season. I hope he has it in him. Other than that, Rycroft will be looked at as well, being easy to equate with Ken Klee. We'll just have to wait and see if he pulls his weight or not. He's certainly my number one take-him-or-leave-him player in the team.
Justin from The Hockey Guild: "Poor-performing player" and Ken Klee do NOT deserve to be in the same sentence together. This guy was the most underrated player on the team last year. He was dependable, he was one of the ONLY players on the team that HIT SOMEBODY, and his leadership was silent but extremely effective. I will really miss Klee on the blueline.
But to answer the question, I think that Marek Svatos is the obvious whipping boy this year. With such an amazing rookie campaign, it's obvious he has the skills to be an NHL All-Star. Sure, he's had shoulder injuries, but maybe if he bulked up and played with some toughness, he would create a little more space and respect for himself on the ice.
Teams in the northeast WANT Svatos on their squad - namely the Toronto Maple Leafs - so if Svats doesn't produce early this season, I fully expect him to be traded. He has the capability to be such an amazing player on a consistent basis, but he has to prove he wants to become an elite player in this league. He needs a stronger work ethic and a better mental focus on the ice. He doesn't back-check enough and he needs to round out his game. If he can prove on the ice and in practice that he is dedicated to playing a complete game, Quenneville will keep his ice time steady. If he cannot do these things, expect the fans to start wondering what happened to that stellar rookie.
Honestly though, if he plays with Hlinka, there will be no need to give him the big heave ho.
Shane from AvsTalk: With the uproar over Brett Clark's contract, his every move will be scrutinized this year. As soon as he makes a mistake, people will pounce on it like a fat kid on the last twinkie. Sorry, I meant "weight-challenged kid". He will be subject to over-scrutiny and a lot of mistakes he makes will be blown out of proportion. And make no mistake about it, he will screw up at times. All players do.
It also appears Wolski has a shot at growing into the new Theodore in terms of fan base. People who expose him for his weaknesses are labelled "haters" and "bashers" while those who defend him are labelled "lovers" and "apologists" who don't have hockey sense. Too many people are remembering game 1 of the Dallas series in '06 and too many people are forgetting he was a rookie last year. But that's what lofty expectations will do to a player.
Greg from Hockey Rants: One problem with being a (sort-of) Avs blogger situated two time zones away -- I wasn't even aware there was a hubbub about Clark's contract. Sheesh.
Anyway: the number one guess here for whipping boy would be Svatos, just because the expectations have been so high for (seemingly) forever, and the actual results have been pretty disappointing. What might save him is that if he struggles, there's enough firepower up front that they don't need to play him. He could just sort of fade-away to a fourth-line role.
#2, though, doesn't have that out -- Jordan Leopold. I remember being pretty thrilled with the return on the Tanguay trade, only to see him have ... no impact. In the eternal optimism of the fan, I thought Derek Morris was stopping in Denver on the way to six Norris Trophies and the Hall of Fame -- I'm already wondering if I made the same mistake with Leopold.
Jori from Avs Prospects: A few candidates emerge with the absence of Patrice Brisebois, but I feel Jose Theodore is the ultimate whipping boy for the Colorado Avalanche. He's been a good teammate and that's not what qualifies him for his candidacy, but rather his play and fat contract. I can remember many times last season hearing the boos when Theodore allowed a bad goal and the cheers when Quenneville replaced him with Peter Budaj. Theodore's a good soldier, but he just doesn't have it any more.
Alex Tanguay was very popular in Colorado, so Jordan Leopold is also on the hot seat in the eyes of many Avalanche fans. Leopold didn't get off to a good start in his Avalanche career by missing all of but 15 games last season. I've loved Leopold's game since he was a Gopher (and I despise the Minnesota Golden Gophers) and I feel the trade, in time, will be justified. Tanguay's comments last season regarding the trade have soured my opinion of him. So while some will have resentment towards Leopold, I will not be among them.
Brett Clark's contract extension created some heated debate among the Avs fan base. I admit to not being a fan of the extension. I think Clark is a fine player, but I also feel he was rewarded for being the "best of a bad bunch." With a healthy Leopold and the addition of Scott Hannan, Clark's role will likely be reduced. Does that justify such an increase? Not to me. Clark isn't Brisebois, so I don't foresee him receiving the same wrath and the reduced ice time may be to his benefit. Yet, going into 2008-09 season, he won't be getting paid as someone who has taken on a reduced role.
Lastly, there is Wojtek Wolski. Many perceived Wolski's rookie season as a lackadaisical one in comparison to the efforts of Paul Stastny. Work ethic issues plagued Wolski last season and that added to some fans ire. The problem with Wolski isn't so much Wolski, but Paul Stastny. Stastny's performance was unexpected and when you compare that to Wolski's rookie season, some frowned upon him. Players develop at different rates (Wolski lacks consistency) and I feel in time Wolski will be fine. However, there are many who will be ready to ship him out of town (some are already at that point) if he doesn't show drastic improvement this year.